If you’re a DC Comics fan, you know Lee Bermejo. He’s the artist behind two of the most seminal super-villain tales ever to see print—2008’s JOKER and 2010’s LUTHOR, both written by his frequent collaborator, Brian Azzarello. He also brought Watchmen’s masked and trench-coated vigilante back to the comic page in BEFORE WATCHMEN: RORSCHACH, and mashed up Dickens with the Dark Knight in BATMAN: NOEL. Known for his hyper-realistic art style and cinematic storytelling, he’s one of the most dynamic creators currently working in comics. And he has a new series that we suspect you’ll want to check out.
However, as this is “Vertigo for the DC Fan,” it’s not a DC Comics series. It’s from Vertigo and is conceived, written and drawn entirely by Bermejo (with colors by Matt Hollingsworth). It’s called SUICIDERS and the very first issue is in stores now.
Here’s the basic idea. After the West Coast is devastated by a massive earthquake, Los Angeles is left in ruins, riddled by crime and left isolated by the United States government (which all but writes the city off). So in order to survive, L.A. does what it does best: It turned that very survival into entertainment.
Now, thirty years later, the city of New Angeles is thriving once more thanks to Suiciders—a TV series that combines the spectacle of hand-to-hand combat with elaborate, high-tech obstacles that test each competitor’s ability to survive. But the competitors do have an edge. Perhaps unsurprisingly for L.A., they’ve all had some work done. Physically (and occasionally freakishly) enhanced by drugs and technology, the results are both marvelous and monstrous. Against this bleak backdrop, one man, known only as “The Saint,” begins to rise above his fellow Suiciders.
If you’re a fan of action-packed, post-apocalyptic tales like Mad Max, The Running Man and Escape from New York, this is right up your alley. But it’s also deeper than any of those. The first issue emphasizes character as much as conflict, adding intriguing layers of depth and texture to this uniquely dark world that Bermejo has created.
We were curious about where this idea came from, as well as how Bermejo instills so much energy and life into his art, so we asked him a few questions. The answers are almost as shocking as his work. (Almost!)
Let’s start with the obvious question. How long have you had the idea for Suiciders? Where did the idea come from?
The idea has been kicking around in my head for about ten years now, in various forms. I remember talking to Scott Dunbier about a version of Suiciders back when I was still at Wildstorm. The evolution of the concept took some time to work out, and part of the reason I never attempted to get it off the ground until now is because the idea was missing 'pieces.' When I worked out those kinks, something clicked and I finally felt like I had a good concept AND a good story. Those things can be mutually exclusive and I wanted to do something that not only satisfied my own personal needs as a storyteller but also satisfied the needs of the story itself. I also feel like I've been evolving as a storyteller in general over the past ten years to the point where I could finally pull off the story technically.
The idea comes from a combination of things. One major part of it is the 'immigrant story' that I wanted to tell because I was living my own immigrant story when I moved from the U.S. to Europe. Another important element was Los Angeles itself, simply because I grew up fairly close and felt like I could tell a story about that place. MOSTLY, though, I wanted to do something that enabled me to tell a complex human story that wears the clothes of a big, muscular sci-fi epic.
So that’s the reason you picked Los Angeles as the setting?
I used Los Angeles because I felt like I knew it a bit better having grown up so close.
When you're raised in Southern California, you do grow up under the shadow of 'The Big One,' so to speak. Since I was young I remember people talking about this giant earthquake that could come at any time. Every time I'd drive from San Diego up to see my folks, I'd go through L.A. and cross the San Andreas fault. I liked the idea of a HUGE disaster as the genesis for the story. It enabled me to create a history that was based in tragedy.
Has writing and drawing your own original story always been part of the plan for you?
Most definitely!!!! I started out writing and drawing mini comics before becoming a professional, and that experience really stuck with me in the sense that I like the idea of controlling as much of the package as possible. Obviously, you have to have a story to tell, that's the most important thing, but I knew that I would eventually start writing and drawing my own material. I still enjoy working with other writers, though, and that's something I'd like to continue doing, but when I have something to say, as is the case with Suiciders, I really enjoy the idea of doing it myself.
Suiciders is very much in the vein of movies like Escape from New York/L.A., Mad Max and The Running Man. Were those movies at all influential in coming up with the story?
100%. Love those films, and they are absolutely a big influence on my aesthetic since those were the kind of movies I was watching when I was younger and my sensibilities were being shaped. I'd say Mad Max in particular was a very influential film for me. Loved how dirty and hopeless it was. Will Dennis actually compared the series to the original RoboCop, which wasn't a direct influence but I think it's pretty on the money. I tried to add a satirical element very much along the lines of that film. There is also a HUGE noir element in Suiciders, so the L.A. noirs of James Ellroy also have been very influential. I love his characters and the way they interact with the landscape.
The art in the first issue is unbelievable! The action flows so well. What’s the key to illustrating an elaborate fight scene like we see in issue #1?
Thank you!! Honestly, I feel like that sequence all comes from wanting to show off the colosseum itself, so I tried to orchestrate everything around the tech. Again, since there is a certain amount of satire I want to get across, the idea of putting these big obnoxious neon signs on machines meant for killing really appealed to me. It makes things a bit more operatic and ridiculous. I really feel like that scene owes a LOT to the brilliant Matt Hollingsworth. His colors give the sequence that gladiatorial feel I really wanted.
There’s also a lot of religious iconography in this story. Is faith and religion a theme of Suiciders? Or is it just there because it’s such a part of Los Angeles?
The religious element is not a particularly important part of the story, but it is an important part of Los Angeles. Certainly the iconography really leans towards those kinds of images: saints, angels, devils. They make for interesting visual motifs that can really parallel the story without necessarily being the focus. Also, with society in L.A. reverting to a more medieval mentality in some ways, I thought it would be interesting that even their entertainment takes on something of a religious connotation.
Finally, if you were planning to spend a few days in New Angeles, what three things would you pack?
I would need some valid identification, that's for sure. Wouldn't want to be shot on sight as an illegal. Honestly, in New Angeles that's all you need.
SUICIDERS #1, by Lee Bermejo with Matt Hollingsworth, is now available in print and digital.